A Call To Love: Chris Tanner by Karen Finley


Glitter, glamour, melody and voice.

Loyalty, adornment, lilac icing on cake

His last dollar, will gladly give to you

A tinsel tiger carries your weight

Made for you from heaven’s gate

It is art, my dear

We are here

Have a cup of tizzy tea  

And wear your best frock

We are together

And that is reason enough



This is an artist not only with talent

but with generosity and genuine care

Troubadour musical delight

His art brings enchantment

To a world that takes and breaks

our love and soul

Yet Tanner’s art always has room for

a rainbow view, a phoenix flutter, a December rose.


This aesthetic commitment of his, as genuine impulse

Is his dedication to humanity, to witness against all ugly

To assist and refuse degradation but to pedestal

This prism, A Call to LOVE.


In particular in this age of attack

Of oppression, crazy cruel xenophobia

Tanner reimagines a better vision of ourselves

A reliving, a surround-scape escape-cape of wonder

Of human potential against all things

Wicked monster

But to impress via his own rose colored

Jeweled glasses to start with our own joy attitude

With celebratory defiance.


Every piece of Tanner’s is like a piece of birthday cake

Another year, another milestone

Blow and make a wish

In his paintings wishes do come true




As a 2-year-old, Tanner convalesced in hospital following surgery for a condition of a prematurely closed soft spot in his skull. Panels were cut on the sides of his skull allowing his brain room to  grow. After surgery, he would be required to wear a football helmet for 2 years to protect his head. One cannot imagine the aloneness and suffering he went through. Despite this difficult beginning Tanner never despaired or complained or became bitter. He had the care and daily visit of his mother in the hospital, *Sally, who travelled the 100 miles roundtrip to the hospital every day for a year and a half.  Yet he transformed his waiting, the child cruel bullying, the agony of his disfigurement into a triumphant claim of creativity, delight and the inner DIVA calling.

We need Tanner’s work now. At this moment, now more than ever we need to collectively embrace art as celebration, glamour as resistance, desire, allure and romance as defiance. His appropriation of everything shimmery reminds us about the surface thrill-shrill shallowness of empty promises and things bling. But we can dance. Wear perfume to cover the stink. His extreme embellishments, decor defused accoutrements expose the blur of grotesque quick-change artists when what he is really saying is; what matters is the love within rather than without. His artworks simultaneously occupy dis-enchantment while straddling against existentialism with temporary flash.  Tanner refuses to retreat during the times of the deepest loss, the most desperate of times for himself but also for our community. Yes, his art bliss has a vulnerability, a curious courageous inspiration, a swirl of saved ribbons and gift wrap. Just to be close to you.

Christopher Tanner is the best of friends and devoted citizen. He cares about his friends, his community, his partner, Anthony Rocanello his family and to other artists. And this caring is evident in his artmaking. By picking up small pieces, montaging mosaic elements, fragmented memory into compositions to steady our way, he is unapologetic in opposition to deconstruction but rather constructs and builds on the strength and materiality of assemblage and collage. His hands get dirty in the making. The body expression is present. This isn’t about the privilege of high concept art that is reserved for a few in the know. His paintings are exercises in sensation.

His art speaks of a yearning, a longing, a word translatable only in Portuguese. Saudade. This missingness, a nameless melancholia, a void always present with so many of our generation – and for Tanner who lost his partner, Steve Lott in 1991 to AIDS, the journey of creating art during grief is particularly resonant. We have lost so many friends, yet his life and work rises out of these times – is a testament of endurance, that we can and will be alive, a blessing of the mirrored beasts as reminders of ornamentation, on parade, as costume. A homage to the glory of being, a fete, the decadence of chance encounter to thrive despite the odds.

And damn it why not! Give us magnificence within a frame. Let us have perspective with your lavish, kaleidoscope treasure as deserved. Tanner straddles his generosity not in a linear trope but borders of consumption, appetite, deliverance, an over-the-top-credo, a nouveau riche declaration of silly, ravishing, jubilance. His paintings speak and question authenticity – of preciousness, of royalty and inherited and accumulated wealth. With the creative act there is the beckoning, or reckoning to even-out the world of neglect, abandonment, impoverishment, and the forgotten. His work is a stained-glass lens against the inhumanity of tragic circumstances and survival with the memories of what remains. If I can’t see the world as it is I can see it how it can be.

Tanner’s abstraction process is a way to reorganize and clarify chaos in a directed, managed shattering. Literally – he picks up the pieces. His gemmed landscapes are body mappings. A closer looking, a glazing gazing skin cell, in microscopic technicolor. At times, he stops at rotundas of organs and lashes. These works are inside us- a galaxy of utopian senses of eyes, ears, taste, aromas saturated with deep feeling of interiority. Don’t be fooled by the robust festive excitement – for Tanner’s work has a mission – to command space and respect for the queer body and desire. And we stand at attention.

Christopher Tanner’s art speaks to remembering, honoring and celebrating life, love and art. A dazzling occasion to behold. Art as a call to LOVE.  


Sally Tanner (born 1926) represented California’s 60th District in the California State Assembly from 1979 to 1992. She authored the Lemon Law.